S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky

Key events

In a restaurant somewhere in sunny Los Angeles County, 13 years ago, two old friends were having lunch. Wine and conversation were flowing. They remembered how they'd met at LucasArts in the 90s. They weren't there to talk business but they did because video games were their bread and butter. One of the men, Jack Sorensen, was reeling-off job opportunities he knew of - he being executive vice president of worldwide studios at games publisher THQ. "THQ Australia?" he enquired. But the other man, Dean Sharpe, didn't seem interested. He had closed his own studio Big Ape Productions a couple of years earlier, dropped off the radar and taken a break, and now he was ready for something new. But Sharpe wanted a challenge.

Few settings have captured the imaginations of game developers and players like Chernobyl, the site of a reactor explosion in 1986 that created one of the world's few actual nuclear wastelands. The legendary Exclusion Zone - now, would you believe, something of a tourist attraction - has provided the stage for countless virtual conflicts and survival stories. There are the indirect recreations, such as Big Robot's bleached starship graveyard The Signal From Tölva, or the Erangel island map from PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds - an abandoned Soviet testing facilty in which the wanderer is forced towards rather than away from the centre by an ever-encroaching sea of blue energy. And there are truer-to-life portrayals like Call of Duty 4's "All Ghillied Up" mission or GSC World's STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl, which gives you the run of an Exclusion Zone in which space-time is starting to fall apart like overcooked pasta.

Former STALKER team announces Chernobyl-set battle royale game

How about a STALKER battle royale game? There's one in development. It's called Fear the Wolves and it's made by Vostok Games, the studio formed from the ashes of STALKER developer GSC.

Fear the Wolves takes place, like STALKER, in the creepy radiation-blasted wasteland of Chernobyl. It's a 100-player deathmatch where you can play lone wolf or in squads - but players won't be the only enemy. Deadly anomalies constantly threaten your health, mitigated somewhat by protective gear found while exploring. Of more pressing danger, however, will be the mutated forms lurking in the shadows...

Fear the Wolves will be released at some point this year on PC and consoles - presumably much later this year. There'll be an early access phase on PC beforehand.

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How many games can claim to still have a dedicated following, 10 years after their release? That still have fans conjuring up new mods to alter and add to the game? S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl is pretty much the definition of a video game cult classic. This strange Ukrainian survival shooter is for some the best the genre has ever seen. But its audience wasn't spurred into existence upon the game's release. Fans had followed the development of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. for years before it eventually came out in 2007. In that time they saw various versions of it, each containing numerous areas and mutants that never made it into the final game.

GOG Summer Sale 2015 kicks off with Witcher 3 discount

UPDATE: Ethan Carter for £6, Sunless Sea for £7.50, and loads more.

UPDATE 9TH JUNE: There's been a bumper update to the Sale, the headline addition being Telltale's excellent adventure games. The entire Walking Dead series - Season 1, Season 2, 400 Days - is only £10.67, and The Wolf Among Us is down to £4.79. The new Game of Thrones series is half-price at £11.49.

Dodgy crowdfunding project Areal returns as Stalker Apocalypse

It's a better pitch but still not convincing enough.

Controversy surrounded a Kickstarter project called Areal earlier this year. It was billed as the spiritual successor to the creepy, cult S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games, made by some of the same people, and it had serious ambition - but also serious flaws.

Areal adds key S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Survarium designer

But serious questions about the Kickstarter still remain.

There's been a noteworthy update to the controversial Areal Kickstarter (beyond what I dug into last week): the full-time hiring of Alexey Sytyanov, the lead game designer of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and the lead game designer of Survarium.

For an area that's been blasted by radiation for the past twenty years, the sloping hills of the countryside around Chernobyl are impressively virile. The grasses have shifted from soft greens to muted browns, admittedly, but there's still a lot of vegetation, and, more worryingly, a lot of wildlife.

GSC denies Stalker 2 cancelled rumour

GSC denies Stalker 2 cancelled rumour

UPDATE: GSC deletes Twitter denial.

UPDATE 1: GSC has deleted its Twitter denial of Stalker 2's cancellation.

ORIGINAL STORY: GSC Game World has denied a Ukrainian news report that claims Stalker 2 has been cancelled and the developer shut down.

Following the publication of a UkraNews.com report that claimed the promising open world shooter had been canned after GSC founder and CEO Sergei Grigorovich decided to close the company, the official Stalker Twitter page posted: "No we have not closed GSC or cancelled."

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S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 creeping towards RPG?

Q&A notes greater focus on survival.

There's going to be a greater emphasis on survival within S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2, developer GSC Game World has revealed - hinting at a shift towards being an RPG rather than a shooter.

Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl - let's drop all the dots - seemed to divide people. For every person I know who would enthuse and OMG about the atmospheric shooter, there would be another for whom the game had been a horrible mistake. This article, I suspect, isn't going to be for that second group of people. They've tasted this peculiar Ukrainian experience, and they won't be going back. For those who know the game, accept its foibles, and still find something worth spending time with, this will be a story they understand rather well. They'll probably be nodding along at the most salient points. Hopefully, however, we'll also have a third species of reader: the one who has yet to give it a try.

GSC confirms S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Prypiat

GSC confirms S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Prypiat

Plus: sequel and console P.O.R.T. promised.

GSC Game World has announced a second standalone expansion for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. called Call of Prypiat, which will be released on PC this autumn.

The developer also revealed to Russian magazine Igromania that a console port of the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game is under way. Plus, GSC president Sergei Grigorovich said during an online-conference that "we will certainly develop S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2". Both translations are courtesy of nV News, although there's no further detail offered for either project.

Call of Prypiat takes place in the faithfully-recreated eastern part of the eponymous city, which was abandoned after the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.

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GSC releases 2004 build of STALKER

A glimpse of what might have been.

In an unprecedented move, Ukrainian developer GSC Game World has released a build of its infamously troubled PC game S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shaodw of Chernobyl that predates the final release by two and a half years, Shacknews reports.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky

Restraining orders.

The first moment that comes to mind when thinking of the original Stalker (we'll dispense with "S.T.A.L.K.E.R." if that's alright) is from my first playthrough. I'm descending into one of the toxic Ukranian underworlds and come across something that makes me stop and laugh. A paint-pot is levitating, bouncing against the ceiling and twitching spasmodically. I'm playing it in a room with fellow journalists, so call them over to have a giggle at Stalker having one of its very special moments.

Everyone has just enough time to gather before it comes hurtling at my head causing a mass panicked jump and me diving at the controls to run back the way I came. It wasn't a bug. It was a poltergeist. To me, it kind of sums up the best of Stalker - its sheer vigour and determination to summon a world completely overwhelming your expectations (and experience) of technical foibles. Stalker overcame its weaknesses. Clear Sky - while interesting in half a dozen ways - ultimately doesn't.

It's a graphically improved prequel that integrates a mass of things that were promised for Stalker with assorted game tweaks that - on paper - sound as if they'd improve the immersion of the game considerably. In practice, it mainly shows that there are no good or bad ideas: only good and bad executions.

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FeatureS.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky

Chatting to the world's most radioactive developer.

With S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, developer GSC GameWorld proved that you can make an innovative, specs-testing FPS with a small team - but it will probably take you the best part of a decade to get it finished. Now hard at work on a prequel, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, which is due out in August, it's hoping not only to trim the production cycle, but also deliver a game that truly lives up to their initial concept. Following our preview session, we caught up with Oleg Yavorsky, the developer's PR director, to discuss unusual inspirations, the danger of revolutionary technology, and the trouble with making games for "non-intellectuals".

FeatureS.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky

Walkin' and Stalkin'.

War is like Christmas for some developers. It has ready-made stories, clear-cut opponents, and there's normally even a party at the end. War's also got the classy sheen of history, but it's history reduced to the bouncy bits: a chance to look sober while savouring the massive explosions. Not many human tragedies let you do that.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. sequel set for Steam

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. sequel set for Steam

Same time as retail, later this year.

GSC Game World and Valve have announced that S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky will be digitally distributed exclusively through Steam when the game comes out "later this year".

That doesn't mean that there won't be a boxed version, though, because there will, but GSC has yet to announce who will be publishing it. THQ, which handled the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R., seems to have run home crying.

GSC CEO Sergiy Grygorovych said the devs "chose to deliver the digital version of the game exclusively on Steam because of its proven success not only as the leading global digital distribution platform for games, but because it allows us to directly reach its integrated and active community of gamers".

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E3: S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky

We get our webbed hands on it.

Having spent over six years getting Stalker into shops, GSC could have kicked back for a bit. They deserved the chance to, for want of a better phrase, zone out. At least for a bit. Instead they've come back with a game that's just as big. It's not even an expansion - it's a full-blown prequel. And it won't take them six years this time, according to Oleg Yavorsky and Valentine Yeltyshev, demoing the game at E3, neither of whom looks particularly worn out despite the developmental trek and the long flight from Ukraine. Perhaps, for them, the journey's the worthier part. (Bound to be more fun than talking to me, either way).